• 241
A set of dedicated winter tires will dramatically impro... A set of dedicated winter tires will dramatically improve your safety in the winter (kibrly, Flickr).
If the midwest snow storm can teach us one lesson, it's that it's never too early in the season to start thinking about winter tires.

"We start encouraging drivers to think about snow tires in September," says John Rastetter, director of tire information at Tire Rack, a prominent national tire retailer.

Even if you weren't among the millions who spent the weekend before Halloween shoveling snow instead of raking leaves, know that winter is upon us and the most important thing you can do to get your car ready is to make sure it is riding on the right tires for the season.

Why snow tires?

While many drivers assume that regular all-season tires are just fine for year round driving, that's only true if you live in a temperate climate. If you live where it snows -- or your area experiences routine sub-40 degree Fahrenheit temperatures -- a set of dedicated winter tires will dramatically improve your safety during the coldest months. While brand new all-season tires can provide reasonable traction during the winter, their performance is roughly equivalent to half-worn snow tires, says Rastetter. Half-worn all-season tires, on the other hand, are unsuitable for winter driving in snow and on icy roads.

Winter tires gain their advantage not only because they have superior tread patterns that are designed for traction on ice and snow, but because they employ "softer" rubber compounds to enhance grip. This winter rubber is designed to perform, not only when there's snow and ice on the pavement, but in cold temperatures on dry pavement. This is why winter tires are not suitable for summer, warm-weather driving, as their softer rubber and more open tread pattern will wear rapidly. Likewise, low-profile summer performance tires are terrible in cold temperatures. All-season tires compromise their winter ability in order to be used during the summer.

Many reasons for, few against

While drivers of rear-wheel-drive cars have long employed dedicated winter tires, mounted on an extra set of wheels for easy changeover, it's only been in the last decade that drivers of front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles have embraced the benefit of such an arrangement. While snow tires help a car get moving on icy pavement -- always the prime motivation for owners of rear-drive cars -- they also help any car to both stop and corner in snow and ice.

Indeed, braking performance is the biggest reason why drivers of front- and all-wheel-drive cars would choose winter tires, as they dramatically decrease stopping distance. Recent tests conducted by Tire Rack saw a 35-percent improvement in braking when using winter tires over standard all-season tires. That is a life-and-death difference.

One of the biggest reasons customers have for not buying snow tires is always cost. A complete set of winter rubber mounted on spare wheels can easily cost close to $1,000 -- or more, for owners of high-end vehicles with large wheels. Yet compared to the cost of an insurance deductible, not to mention the possibility that a good set of winter tires might be the difference between life and death in an accident, the tires make good sense.

The other factor that many drivers do not employ in their "can I afford winter tires?" math is that the use of winter tires prolongs the life of your primary tires. "It may be an extra thousand dollars today," says Rastetter, "but it's going to stretch them out from two to three years of service to five to six years of service."

Think of it this way: Instead of buying two sets of all-season tires over the lifetime of your car, you're buying a set of all season tires and a set of snow tires. Really, the only extra cost is the additional set of wheels.

This brings up another stumbling block that can keep drivers from using winter tires: Storage. "One of the obstacles we see from our customers is the inability to store a second set of wheels and tires," says Don Barnes, marketing director for Belle Tire, a retailer located in the Detroit area.

For some, the clutter of an already packed garage just cannot absorb a stack of tires. But for others -- primarily apartment-dwellers -- having to store tires throughout the year is an impossibility. Then there's the inconvenience of having to transport tires to an installer twice a year, says Barnes. With tires sizes having grown considerably in the last decade, often four tires just will not fit in a small car, meaning more than one trip to the tire shop each time you have your tires changed.

That's why tire retailer Belle Tire started offering off-season tire and wheel storage last year, using the same warehouse it stores new tires in to keep its customers' old ones. Tires and wheels are cleaned and stored in a tote, and can be swapped by appointment at any of Belle's locations. Customers don't even have to purchase their tires from Belle to use the service, which costs $80 per season ($160 annually). Last year, Barnes says, the service was so popular that it sold out, and capacity for this winter has been subsequently increased.

While Belle's service is just one solution in a limited geographic area, we have seen other retailers offering similar plans, including some new car dealers.

No time like the present

Keep in mind that snow tires are not produced year-round like all-season tires, and tire retailers can and do run out of them. That's why it's important to buy new snow tires even before the weather gets cold. The tire industry, like the car industry at large, has been shaken by the recent financial collapse and Tire Rack's Rastetter says there have been spot shortages in the last few years.

"As we get further into the winter season," he says, "there are going to be some shortages."




I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 241 Comments
      maporl
      • 3 Years Ago
      When I lived up north, I bought winter retreads, some had sawdust or even walnut shells mixed with the rubber compound when they were made. They were good for maybe only two winters, but they ran dry and had a great grip. Never got stuck and didn't need chains.
      Suzanne
      • 3 Years Ago
      Snow tires? I can't even afford regular tires. My Ford Explorer with all-weather tires was just fine last year in NJ with the big snowstorm we had in December. Looks like tire companies are trying to just make some $$$$.
      Henry ptnm
      • 3 Years Ago
      Besides tires, there are other things to consider. Front end and all wheel alignments are important. Saves on tires. Rotating tires every 10,000 miles. Suspension systems such as worn out shocks and struts should be taken care off plus checking batteries and cooling systems and fluids. On snow tires, I haven't heard that word. I have 4x4 truck and when I bought it, the previous owner put tires made for 4x4's. Works good on snow.
      E-Dude
      • 3 Years Ago
      I drive a truck and it sucks when it comes to winter traction.
        cee64e
        • 3 Years Ago
        @E-Dude
        A few 40 lb bags of sand will help with that. My friend lays a 2x4 behind the wheel wells on his full size pickup and then puts 4-6 bags of sand between the board and the tail gate. If you'd rather not use sand bags then any kind of weight behind the rear axle will help. Trucks are notoriously nose heavy, anything you can do to balance out the weight will help a lot.
          Henry ptnm
          • 3 Years Ago
          @cee64e
          Good suggestion with sand bags. I did that when I owned a 4x2 truck. Now I own a 4x4 truck, it will still be a good suggestion. It will balance the weight on all four tires. It would be better not to put too much weight in the back of a 4x4 truck. I tried it on one 4x4 vehicle I had many years ago and it somehow it didn't work. I took the weight off, it drove better. I noticed the wheel space was closer and that is why it didn't work. If the wheel space is wider, then it will work..
      Wwhatever747
      • 3 Years Ago
      Had my studded snow tires put on last November 1 on a sunny day while the tire shop was empty of customers and it's still sunny today after few days of rain. Not yet have snow here in the N.W. Will be driving through Mt Hood to our favorite resort at Kah-Nee-Ta in Warm Springs, OR.
        rwilliamhoward
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Wwhatever747
        Can you still GET studded snows? The last I heard (many years ago) thet had been outlawed because of the damage they do to the roads. (I loved 'em when I could get them. Don't need 'em now. Moved to AZ.)
          David
          • 3 Years Ago
          @rwilliamhoward
          in some states yes but its limited when you can use them and when they have to come off. But if you have that much snow on the road why not use common sense and stay home? I live in Iowa with below zero temps and moderate snowfall and all season radials have done me just fine as long as I'm smart about when i need to go out and drive slower when the raod conditions call for it.
          GOODDOC1
          • 3 Years Ago
          @rwilliamhoward
          You pretty much HAVE to have them up here in Alaska. There are different times they're allowed in different parts of the State.
      jerrylee14120
      • 3 Years Ago
      60 degrees in Buffalo Today!!!! Don't need no stinkin snow tires!!
        dusty754
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jerrylee14120
        70 degrees in Phoenix and of course the fact that is rarely ever snows means one doesn't need snow tires unless one is heading for the high elevations where chains probably are better than snow tires especially sincw many of those roads sometimes have nasty drop offs as they wind about the mountains.
        rwilliamhoward
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jerrylee14120
        Next week it'll be 10 degrees, with 6 inches of day - old snow. Get some SNOW TIRES!!!
      gmoan2
      • 1 Year Ago
      My wife said that wasn't nice. We could be there and it would be different with kids and all.
      gloucesterrev
      • 3 Years Ago
      Good idea, but the reality is that it's all about $. Back in the "old days" of rear-wheel-drive cars, a $50 trip to the junkyard would yield a pair of rims upon which to mount $150 worth of snow tires to store in the garage until needed, then dismount in Spring. In today's world of exotic alloy standard wheels and $250-apiece snowtires, the round figure of a thousand dollars for a snowtire swap sounds pretty unrealistic. Also, almost all cars today are equipped with antilock brakes and some form of traction control - both unknown when snowtires were a necessity - let alone modern all-wheel-drive systems. In the upper MidWest, a fresh set of Blizzaks is a must. However for an occaisional snowstorm here in the mid-Atlantic (where nobody goes anywhere when there's more than an inch of snow on the ground) well maintained all-weather tires should do the trick.
      bdot157
      • 3 Years Ago
      Save the money, time to take a trip somewhere warm & worry about the sand in your swimsuit.
      Carole
      • 3 Years Ago
      How comical. They don't make snow tires anymore. They make all season tires. If your tires are in good shape and you know how to drive in snow you're good to go. Leave it to aol.
        john
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Carole
        they still make snow tires. They probably don't sell as many as they used to because people foolishly believe all season tires are just as good, but there are still some you can buy. I think you can buy them from Tire Rack's website and have them shipped to a nearby tire dealer. If you can't find snow tires its always best to buy a set of tire chains or those bungee strap cheapo versions (remember that you have to take those off when you get off the snow or you will rip them apart). As redsox said All season only means they are good in wet and dry. They are not very effective at all in the snow, however, you can drive in the snow with them IF you know how to drive slow smooth and carefully. You are showing the foolishness that puts so many SUVs and AWD cars in ditches, thinking All season means its just as good as a snow tire.
        cmax383666
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Carole
        i used to run snow mud and ice tires all the time,becuse i was on construction sights all the time in a car but your right cannot find them any more and i personally saw a difference especially with rear drive.Another car i had i also kept a pair of belt on chains i could install them i a few minutes in order to get out pf a tight spot,then remove them easily but have not seen them in years either.I believe the front wheel vehicles have convinced peole they do not need them any more.They may be right ,i just like rear wheel drive cars.
        Former sailor
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Carole
        How comical you are,Carole. You must live in Florida. - First: "ALL-SEASON" is a euphemism: it's just another way of saying "SUMMER TIRE." Practically worthless in the snow. Second: they do, indeed, still make snow tires, particularly for use by all SANE drivers. I've driven in Vermont for over 45 years, professionally as well as with my personal vehicles, and I would NEVER be without snow tires in the winter. The difference in control is amazing, as I drive past all those cars which are stuck in the snow with their "all-season" tires. Leave it to amateurs!
      yesiam2000
      • 3 Years Ago
      Snow tires are outmoded. We lived in Vermont for almost 20 years and never put a set on, because we found the All-Season tires to be just fine. And Vermont has more unsalted/unplowed gravel roads than paved/plowed/salted roads. We never had a problem with handling or steering. Why? Because we drove sensibly. When the roads were bad, we actually slowed down for road conditions! Yep, people still do that. We now live in SC, and they do not have only a very few plows, and those pretty much stick to the interstates. It is MORE dangerous to drive in 1/2" of snow down here than 2' up north. People don't adjust their driving to weather conditions and slow down, and leave more distance between vehices so there is room for error. They drive like the roads are dry. I have never seen so many people drive so badly, even in good weather. I have driven in Boston, Hartford, Los Angeles, all over the country. SC has the worst drivers I have ever seen.
        Former sailor
        • 3 Years Ago
        @yesiam2000
        Snow tires are not outmoded, but your lack of experience and knowledge are! I don't know where in Vermont you resided, but your words lead me to believe you must have been somewhere about nine hundred miles south of Brattleboro! You might have been lucky, but you were NEVER safe! Your remark is analagous to claiming that since you don't wear seatbelts, and have never been hurt in an accident, seatbelts are outmoded - despite the PROVEN fact that seatbelts save lives! Many accidents, including many fatal accidents, are caused by people like you, who defy the laws of nature to prove some non-existent point. By the time you find out how wrong you were, it's too late!
          items17070
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Former sailor
          Obviously yesiam has experience, too many people drive like there is no snow on the road when there is, thats the number one problem! but as Xhapytrkr says, some maverick driving like there invincible usually ends up off the road in a ditch and I just laugh! LOL
        Xhapytrkr
        • 3 Years Ago
        @yesiam2000
        I drove all over the country before many of the Interstates were built. A good set of snow tires and yes a set of chains in the mountains out west (which were required) As you say DRIVE SMART SLOW DOWN!!!!!! If you see a cowboy coming that thinks they're on the spedd way just let him/her go. Believe me you will see them in the ditch down the road. They might get lucky and yes that's what it is lucky and make it home , but it's not worth the chance. SLOW DOWN!!!
      adika3z
      • 3 Years Ago
      any cities in america must have chain tires put on the vehicles tires while heavy snow storm weather
        john
        • 3 Years Ago
        @adika3z
        If your trying to ask if there are cities that require chains during snowstorms, I don't know of actual cities that do, however there are several roads especially out west that definitely require chains and if you don't have chains on and get caught you will get fined.
        cherokee
        • 1 Year Ago
        @adika3z
        I don't know of any cities that require chains.
    • Load More Comments